Whole30: 5 Reasons You Should Re-Think Grains

I think by now everyone is aware of why refined grains are bad for you and how whole grains are so much better. In fact, I think we've been fed so much information about how whole grains are healthier than refined grains that we didn't even realize we were being tricked into thinking whole grains are an essential part of a complete, healthy diet! I know I had always believed this, up until a couple months ago.  

But, just to summarize quickly, refined grains are bad because:

  • during the refining process, the bran (whole grain seed's outer layer) and the germ (stores seed's reproductive material) and all of the fiber, vitamins and minerals present in these two layers are removed
  • the refining process leaves you with just the endosperm (provides fuel for seed's growth), which is mostly starch and some protein
  • points 1 + 2 = almost none of the original nutrients, but almost all the calories
  • to make the typical refined-grain food products taste better, water is sucked out, which further concentrates the calories, and then sugar, fat and salt are added
  • almost no fiber left in the grains means the calories are easier and quicker for us to absorb
  • they contain no complete protein, meaning they won't satisfy hunger

Examples of refined grains: white bread, instant oatmeal, white rice, white pasta, all-purpose flour (which goes into almost all baked goods, many breakfast cereals, and almost every junk food on the snack aisle). 

But you already knew that. And whole grains are healthier because they aren't refined - they contain the original bran, germ and endosperm and all the nutrients present in these layers. It's no mystery that whole grains are healthier than refined grains. 

So now, for the hard part: 

All the people who have been selling you whole grains for health all these years have just been plain wrong (Hartwig 103).

  1. IT'S NOT YOUR BEST CHOICE. We don't just want to survive; we want to thrive. Lots of people's response is - "If healthy cultures have been eating grains for thousands of years, how can they be that bad?" For thousands of years cultures had a limited amount of food choices available to them. What they ate reflects what was available to them in order to survive in their specific place and time. Not the case today. Our modern grocery stores and kitchen tools give us many healthy food options - enough to give us all the calories and nutrients we need without eating grains at all. Today we are interested in thriving, not just getting enough energy to avoid starvation.

     2.  YOU DON'T NEED IT. You won't miss out on any vitamins, minerals or fiber by giving up grains. When compared with fruits and vegetables, grains are not nutrient-dense. Here are           some comparisons to prove it:


Fiber seems to be an especially big deal for those promoting whole grains. It makes us think we must eat whole grains to get fiber! But look at this chart, straight from It Starts with Food:

 Hartwig, 110 - 111

Hartwig, 110 - 111

Clearly we don't need to eat grains to get enough fiber. 

3.  NUTRIENT BLOCKERS. Many of the nutrients that are present in whole grains are not actually available to our bodiesCompounds called phytates, found mostly in the bran of a seed, grab hold of minerals, creating an undigestible complex. When these nutrients, like calcium, zinc and iron, get to your small intestine, they can't be absorbed into the body. This is why phytates are often called "anti-nutrients."

4.  DIGESTION PROBS. There are several proteins found in grains that are resistant to digestion. One especially problematic class of proteins belongs to a group called prolamins. Here's where gluten comes in. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and is partly made up of prolamins. Prolamins' structure makes them very difficult/impossible for our digestive enzymes to break down into amino acids. 

Because of my Crohn's disease, I was in so much pain that I couldn't stand up straight. Every time I ate something, it hurt. In 1999, I had surgery to remove two and a half feet of intestine, including part of my colon. The surgery relieved the severe pain, but I still dealt with intestinal spasms and gut pain after eating. I completed my first Whole30 in March 2010. Through the process, the intestinal pain, gas, and bloating completely went away - and did not return. The constant underlying fear of Crohn's returning is gone because now I understand its root cause."

- Sarah G., Fort Collins, Colorado (Hartwig, 63)


5.  GUT INFLAMMATION. Many protein structures in grains have been found to create temporary increases in gut permeability. The lining of your gut is designed to allow properly digested food into your body - meaning bloodstream - and keep bacteria, viruses and undigested food out. Immune cells in our intestinal barrier are our first line of defense for keeping the bad things out. But some problematic proteins in grains are able to temporarily bypass these immune cells. Once these proteins get inside, immune cells respond by chasing them down. Next ensues an inflammatory response. The severity of this response is different from person-to-person. People with celiac disease have an enormous immune response when they eat tiny amounts of gluten. People with gluten sensitivity, a less severe condition, can experience similar gastrointestinal symptoms. Besides gluten, corn and oats contain different prolamins that may be just as irritating, or worse. 

But just because you don't have any painful symptoms after you eat grains doesn't mean none of this is going on inside your body. When you regularly eat grains, you expose your body to these potentially problematic proteins. This triggers inflammation in the gut, and in the presence of gut permeability, which you can have for many different reasons, this localized inflammation snowballs into systematic inflammation throughout the body.

The inflammatory effects can show up anywhere, as anything: allergies, arthritis, asthma; autoimmune diseases like celiac, Crohn's, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Hashimoto's thyroiditis; chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, endometriosis...(Hartwig, 115).

There's a whole chapter in the book on systematic inflammation. This research, plus the life-changing testimonies of so many who have gone through the Whole30, is primarily what convinced me that doing this program would be worth it for anyone who has health issues, even as small as allergies. It might not fix your problem, but what if it does? Isn't it worth it to see if changing your diet is all it takes?

Oh and just to clarify, I haven't completely given up grains. Of course I did on the Whole30, but because I don't seem to have painful reactions to them, I've transitioned back to eating them, but so much less often. The Whole30 doesn't expect you to eat like this for life - just for 30 days. And it makes it much easier to put less-strict, healthy habits into place afterward.